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Lessons from the Desert

Deserts are bizarre.

They are sandy.

They are stark.

They are sun-baked.

Last week, for our anniversary trip, we traveled to Arizona. I had never been there and if you asked me if it was on my bucket list, I would have said a hearty N.O.

Who in their right mind willingly goes to the desert for a vacation?

Since my husband was already there for work and all we had to really pay for was my flight, I said yes. As the weekend approached and I looked at the weather, I couldn't have been more grouchy. 98 degrees, 102 degrees, 105 degrees.

Who in their right mind willingly goes to a desert for vacation?

Deserts are places we avoid.

Especially those deserts in our lives.

The sandy seasons, and not the type of sandy where we dig in our toes and relax, but more like the sandy that gets in our hair, our eyes, our "unmentionable" parts and no matter what we do, we can't get it out and we carry the gritty, grainy feeling with us wherever we venture next.

The times that are stark, barren, where all we can see is the endless landscape in front of us where nothing good is happening and it's the same desolate moments over and over again, bleak and empty.

The sunbaked moments, where cooling shade is nowhere to be found and we trudge along, hot and bothered, desperate for any form of relief, beaten down by the rays of hopelessness.

That's exactly what I pictured as my plane touched down and I tried to muster excitement for the trip.

Others had warned I would be wrong, but I was less and less sure about that as I stepped onto the gangway and felt the heat wash across my face.

Who in their right mind willingly goes to the desert for a vacation?

The taxi ride proved otherwise.

My mouth was agape and my eyes hardly able to take in the sheer beauty of what lay just outside my window.

Palm trees and succulents.

Flowers of bright pinks, yellows and reds.

Saguaros large and small, misshapen and upright (I'd never seen them before except in books).

As the weekend progressed, I was like a little girl in a candy store, darting from one treat to another, barely able to contain myself.

Red rock formations as huge as mountains jutting out in the middle of the flattest spaces.

Blooms in the most unlikely places, often a crack in a rock where nothing should be growing.

Sacred beauty on a level I had never experienced before.

I couldn't help but do that weird things writers do and start forming words in my brain to try to remotely explain what I was seeing, feeling, and experiencing.

It's one of those times where words are not going to cut it, but I'm going to do my best to try.

Here goes:

1. Deserts protect all their beauty with thorns. It's just basic survival. A couple of times, wanting to get a better look or feel for what I was beholding, I was met with thorns all over my hands. I felt all angry and weirdly happy inside at the same time, getting a small glimpse into the grace I need to give myself (and others) during the "deserty" times of life, because surviving makes us all a little bit "thorny." How could it not?

2. Deserts are not all one thing or the other and I don't have to be either. They are a mix of sandy and succulent, stark and splendid, and sunbaked and sacred. If I head into a desert life season (and hopefully I will remember all this when I do), it may seem like nothing can grow, but the opposite is true. What does grow is often large, beautiful, strong, and able-to-withstand the harshest of environments.

3. Deserts are teeming with life. What feels like a perfect environment for death is actually just what is needed for life to burst forth in the most inhospitable spaces. And when I say burst, I mean burst. A purple flower right on top of a cactus, a bee buzzing, soaking in the nutrients it needs to thrive amidst the thorns. When it seems like I'm doing nothing more than "heading to hell in a hand basket," I might be exactly where I can burst forth in all my beauty (and for this anxious girl, that's hard to even write...I like everything pleasantly saturated and satiated in my life).

As the weekend came to a close and I hopped on the plane back to the lush green of the Northeast, I was left with the bittersweet of saying goodbye to the surprise of my year and yet knowing I will be invited into many more.

I sat down in my seat, buckled in and said a quick prayer of thanks to the Creator of all of it, remembering the question I had asked over and over again.

Who in their right mind willingly goes to the desert for a vacation?

I guess the answer to that question is M.E.

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